WHO CARES FOR THE CARERS?
BY DR O.K IMOHI
You can’t pour from an empty cup – but how does this apply to healthcare professionals? How do you refill, recharge and take care of your mental state, when your work quite literally demands that you constantly look after others first? Who cares for the carers ?
A study recently published in The BMJ found that over 36 percent of NHS consultants had depression, and over 40 percent had symptoms of anxiety. UK doctors experience significant work-related mental health distress, due to a number of factors, including increasing workload, personal experiences, and wider socio-environmental issues. This can directly contribute to anxiety and depression. Clearly, mental health in the medical workforce needs to be put at the forefront of larger healthcare conversations.
It seems counter intuitive that healthcare professionals experience mental health struggles at such disturbing rates and yet the reality persists. While the stigma around mental illness endures, encouragingly, we are seeing awareness improve as researchers work to decipher the biological basis of mental illnesses and the complex interplay between genetics, changes in cellular and brain function, and environmental and lifestyle factors. A lot of healthcare professionals are worried about the stigma attached and don’t seek help. Patients and the public sometimes find it difficult to accept that doctors can be sick. Thankfully recent awareness is making this easier to understand.
Alarmingly, healthcare professionals have been found to dismiss their own mental health in a bid to “keep it all together” as a duty of care, believing that the patients and colleagues they support need more help than they do. This tendency to put others first is a key contributing factor which puts healthcare professionals at a higher risk of mental illness. Furthermore, the role that stigma plays in the equation is undeniable. Studies reveal that mental illness-related stigma is a major concern for healthcare practitioners as well as the wider public, both as a cultural issue in the workplace, and as a barrier against seeking help
Today’s healthcare system tends to spereate mental health and physical health, rather than approaching just health from a holistic perspective – not recognising that physical illness and psychological symptoms are linked. There is a need to address this seperation in terms of how mental health diseases are perceived and the way in which care is delivered. A shift in practice in this area would enable the development of more flexible and integrated approaches to care, to reinvigorate progress in this area and help to pave the way towards greater parity for mental and physical health.
All of these factors can prevent the sick health professional accepting the sometimes obvious fact that they are unwell. But there is support for anyone who needs it, you are not alone. There are many services avaliable including the NHS Practitioner Health Programme, GP health service, the samaritans.
Dr O.K IMOHI